This guest post comes from Yewande Ajoke Agboola, a law student at University of Maryland School of Law currently interning with our campaigns team in Washington DC. At the event described below, Ajoke was accompanied by Jirawat (“Cook”) Suriyashotichynagkul, a Thai legal fellow from our Southeast Asia office, currently visiting our US office after attending American University’s Washington College of Law’s summer session on Environmental Law.
On Monday, Cook and I participated in our very first protest! A couple of blocks from the Brazilian embassy we gathered with other young activists to protest the construction of the Belo Monte dam located on the Xingu River, in the Brazilian Amazon. If completed, it will be the third largest dam in the world and would displace approximately 20,000 indigenous peoples from 18 different ethnic groups, including the Juruna, Xikrín, Arara, Xipaia, Kuruaya, Parakanã, Araweté, and Kayapó.
The fight opposing the Belo Monte dam has been waging since it was first proposed in 1975. In 1989, the plans to build the dam were successfully halted due to the hard work and persistence of indigenous people, local activists, and civil society. Unfortunately, plans to build the dam were placed back on the table in the late 90’s and on June 1st the Brazilian environmental agency gave final approval for the construction of the dam in spite of the recommendation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to suspend the licensing process. The Brazilian Public Prosecutor’s office has called for the immediate suspension of the license, which was issued illegally since many of the conditions required for the license were not met. If the Brazilian government continues to ignore IACHR it could lead to a formal condemnation of Brazil’s actions and possibly referral to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
In order to demonstrate to the Brazilian government that the fight against the Belo Monte is far from over, Amazon Watch organized protests in Washington D.C. and California. The protesters called upon the Brazilian government to halt the project because the dam will severely impact both environmental and human rights, including the rights to housing, community rights, right to access to justice and public participation and the right to access the information, in addition to violation of indigenous peoples rights..
The protest started at 12.00 p.m. with an energetic crowd marching and chanting all the way to the Brazilian Embassy in Georgetown, DC. There, we requested the Brazil government to stop dam construction. Interestingly, there were some that aggressively booed and parodied Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil who allowed and is supporting this project.
As we walked, chanting in unison, we felt a sense of solidarity with the indigenous peoples that live along the Xingu River and others that would be affected by the construction of the dam. Sadly, from what we observed, it seemed as if the Brazilian embassy was not interested in hearing the complaints of the protestors. While a representative from Amazon Watch did enter the embassy to deliver a signed complaint with many signatures, no one from the Embassy came outside to speak with the crowd about the issue. They only came outside to tell us to get off their property.
Both Cook and I wish the very best to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, Amazon Watch, and other NGOs who have dedicated their time and resources to fight against this pressing issue. We know that the fight against human rights violators, corporate wrongdoers and short-sighted governments is an uphill battle, but it is a battle worth fighting for!
More pictures from the protest are available on Amazon Watch’s Picasa album.